It is expected and obvious that the English language speaking public finds a surrealist masterpiece such as Louis Aragon's as intimately obscene, and on such grounds impregnates disparaging critiques that climax with inelegant statements pronounced with a stiff intellectual disregard. Here we do not find the graphic frames of admissable seductive contrivances of a DH Lawrence, rather we unveil a psycholyrical morphology that unsettles and unravels.
The text was originally published in 1928 anonymously by Rene Bonnel, the renowed controversial publisher of greats of the stamp of Jarry, Apollinaire, Pierre Louys and Raymond Rodiguet. Le Con D'Irene was confiscated and the supression of its publication dated through 1968 when authorship became awarded to a Albert de Routisie ( anonymous nome de plume of Aragon), and where five indelible illustrations of Andre Masson illuminated the text. The book, which runs to merely 90 pages, was immediately deemed to be a staple work of surrealist literature, its circulation spurred by the continuous attempts of the French conservative magnates at censure.
There are some aspects of this enigmatic erotic literary engagement that define new features to the previously overripened eros, and - if Cupid was seen as the whimsical child at the court of Aphrodite - we find in Aragon a disavowed Cupid that seems thrust out of the Olympian heights and cast away through to the depths of the underworld. How can sensuality be intellectual? The answer which the surrealist had found consensus within is best elucidated through this novella. The two most prominent aspect of the aforementioned change reflect the expression of disgust and transgression, as well as the ritual and magic that eroticism is akin to. In the first instance we are issued a sedimented encounter that seeks to define the limits of subjectivity by violating its comfort; In the second we meet a spiritual affirmation that absolves of moral imperatives the natural, the carnal and the law of desire which, by way of transgression, accentuates its pleasure, not by suspending rational strictures but by rendering them in a methodology of habit and order that incarcerates the mind as much as the flesh.
Philosophically this is a testament to a dialectic of desire that was being premised by Freudian analytical techniques, particularly as elucidated in Totem and Taboo and Civilazion and its Discontent, through an associative paradigm that functioned within a syntax of condensation and displacement. Namely the erotic was redrawn to overwrite the biological and inscribe a pattern of social stimuli that causes the sublimation of libininal sensibilities. Aesthetic sensibilities need not be seduced but more aptly raped; this was the new invitation to the intellectual Bacchanalia of modernism. There is a force that destabilizes the ego and announces the intercourse of the political with the enervated energy of the id. Here we realize that the act itself is not as sensually satisfying as the voyeuristic distance perpetrated. The closer one comes to desire the farther one is from satisfying it. These are not easy arguements of psychological valence, and to make this encounter all the more problematic, there is a mystical eruption of hysterical proportions that functions as an excess to the repressive implications of social mores.
If as Georges Bataille put it "sexual union is a compromise, a half-way house between life and death" then in Aragon's piece we find a true exponenet of such anxious absolutions; If mystical ecstasy is procured by the absolute expression of ego-psychic abandonment then eroticism is a psychological quest not alien to death; If temptation and irreverence are prophylactic ensurers of a fractured self, then Aragon's prose is a fundamental exponenet of these thematic effusions clad in a literary dress. Louis Aragon, much like Apollinare, was a a literary exponent that stood in the midst of a dialogue in flux between the traditional and the avant-garde. His prose reads beautifully, ecstatically, and is sharpened by an eloquence of the keenest powers. One may easily mistake the excellent rendition of Alexis Lykiard for a page of Nabakov's Lolita - the Russian author was, not surprisingly, an enthusiastic reader of surrealist fiction and particularly of Aragon. This is not trash literature any more than Salvador Dali's or Frida Khalo's paintings are obscene maniacal art. Its fascination stems from a sustained adoptive enterprise that surveyed the works of Horace, Ovid, Lucretius, and Catullus, where the word more prudely and properly translated genitalia is a mainstay of creative exuberance and mysogynistic exploitation. Here Louis Aragon does not stray far from such lamenting, rather he materially propagates what a Blake, for example, sought to do metaphysically during the English Romantic era. Obviously however the two could not be farther apart, but this is for the same reason that a circle's beginning and end meet at some point to close the spherical index.
Finally it is to the title that we must return our gaze. It is the creative impulse turned inside out: the phallic lust is made absent to make for a wounded rational slip that engorges, engrosses and hides as it absorbes the thrsut of passion in favour of a fanciful praxis.
A book that ultimately fails, as did surrealism proper, because of the impossibility of rationalizing the irrational, the chaotic sterility that intention will forever be bound to, even as the claim to spontaneity is advanced. Albeit this is a work that deserved a readership, if for no other reason, a fund of critical treasures and lyrical dexterity. Postmodernism could not have been possible were it not for the surrealist endeavors at supplying the libidinal with a transcendental pulsion that is both ecstatic (as in beyond the essence) and intense (as in within it). Irene is the a transliteration of the Greek Eirenes, namely the goddess of Spring, of nature, the Satyr's energy force, reminding us that it is in absence that creativity is spurred rather than in fullness (plenum): The gestation of Desire is implicated through a lack. Here we find a healthy tension where if you are partially disgusted and partially appalled you lend merit to a literary exposition of unrest as a force of change. Ultimately the one aim was freedom and we cannot achieve freedom unless we strive to go beyond the limits set about us by cultural prescriptions and such like determinants.